Budgets, Retainers and Agreements: Why Do Investigation Firms Require a Client Agreement and Retainer?

by Thomas A. Santaguida – President/Senior Investigator at Dirigo Investigations, LLC.

My firm, Dirigo Investigations usually requires a retainer for private individual cases. We generally do not require a retainer for reputable law firms, insurance companies or established businesses (in most cases). The request for a retainer is our prerogative and we usually exercise this right. I am often asked by potential Clients why? This may be followed by the question \”Don\’t you trust me?\”

The answer is very understandable but a little complicated.

First, we will discuss the Client agreement. Private sector investigations are a service that not many people are familiar with. TV, movies and urban legend often create an idea of what private investigators can do that is not accurate. A professional private investigations firm should:

  • Be competent – their investigators should have sufficient experience to handle the particular assignment
  • Be supervised – investigators should have the ability to discuss the case with a manager
  • Have adequate equipment and technology – the right equipment for the specific investigation – critical
  • Professionalism required – nothing else needs to be said
  • Confidential – private party investigations are all about confidentiality
  • Client Expectations – private individuals who seek professional investigation services are often involved with some very personal situation whether it be marital, custody of children, financial or legal in nature. Consultations that involve a discussion of Client requests are often very complex and cover numerous topics and ideas. The opportunity for miscommunication about what services are actually being requested is quite high.
  • Cost – the cost of an investigation has to be spelled out clearly, so that everyone understands what the budget for the services to be performed is.

These points are excellent reasons why a Client agreement is a must. Agreements spell out what the firm will do and not do and how much it will cost, and how payments are agreed to be made. The agreement protects both Client and firm.

Retainers – a retainer is a \”deposit\” of funds, an advance payment of sorts to ensure that the investigations firm will be paid for services rendered. This type of arrangement is extremely common in numerous service sectors. The Client is generally very safe in this scenario. Investigators are licensed, insured and bonded and the circumstances where work was not performed is rare. However, many firms have taken on case work for a Client without an agreement and retainer – performed the services – and were never paid. Retainers and Agreements are simply a matter of good business.

With my firm, I decide on whether or not a retainer is needed. Repeat Clients, of course, do not need to provide a retainer. Some cases require expensive travel and other significant up front expenses. Retainers are often requested in those circumstances as well.

Our goal is to provide services at or below the Client budget. If  a retainer was paid and not used, we simply return the left over funds with the final report.

Our Client budgets are also a very important component to the investigation. We work with the Client to understand what they want to commit to the case in terms of money and design the case for that budget. We also guarantee (in the agreement) that we will not exceed the Client budget without Client approval. We literally will cease work if the budget is met and the Client has not authorized continuation of investigation. This way, the Client controls the budget and the bill.

For more information, contact the author, Tom Santaguida @ Dirigo Investigations at: tom@dirigois.com



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